All the great conquerors we know of never went to war without a plan; neither should a great trader.
What is a Trading Plan?
Now that you’re about halfway through college, here’s one piece of advice you should always remember.
Be your own trader.
In other words: Don’t follow someone else’s trading advice blindly! Just because someone may be doing well with their method, it doesn’t mean it will work for you.
We’re all in different situations in life, and we all have different market views, thought processes, risk tolerance levels, and market experience.
Have your own personalized trading plan and update it as you learn from the market.
With rock solid discipline, your trading could look like this.
Developing a Trading Plan and sticking to it are the two main ingredients of trading discipline. But trading discipline isn’t enough. Even solid trading discipline isn’t enough.
It has to be rock solid discipline.
We repeat: rock solid.
Like a brick wall.
Plastic solid discipline won’t do. Nor will discipline made from straws and sticks. We don’t want to be little piggies.
We want to be successful traders!
And having brick solid trading discipline is the most important characteristic of successful traders.
A trading plan defines what is supposed to be done, why, when, and how. It covers your trader personality, personal expectations, risk management rules, and trading system(s).
When followed, a trading plan will help limit trading mistakes and minimize your losses.
After all, “If you fail to plan, then you’ve already planned to fail.”
A trading plan removes any bad decision making in the heat of the moment. Your emotions can consume you when money is on the line, causing you to make irrational decisions. You don’t want that to happen.
The best way to prevent it from happening is to minimize (notice we did not say eliminate) thinking by having a plan for every potential market action.
With the right forex trading plan, every action is spelled out, so that in the heat of the moment you don’t have to make any rash decisions.
You just simply stick to your trading plan.
The Difference Between a Trading Plan and a Trading System
Before we continue, we have to quickly distinguish the difference between a trading plan and a trading system.
- A trading system describes how you will enter and exit trades.
- A trading system is PART of your trading plan but is just one of several important parts, i.e., analysis, executions, risk management, etc.
Since market conditions are always changing, a good trader will usually have two or more trading systems in his or her trading plan.
Trading systems will be covered more in-depth later on in the lesson, but we thought that it was important to point out the difference between the two upfront to avoid any confusion.
Why Do Forex Traders Need A Trading Plan?
A trading plan will make trading simpler than it would be if you traded without one.
Think of when you use a GPS device.
You enter where you want to go. It then figures out where you currently are and then shows you how to get to where you want to go. You’re able to constantly check on your GPS to see if you’re still on the right track.
When you make a wrong turn, it knows to make adjustments, and it points you back in the right direction.
A trading plan is your trading GPS. It will show you where you currently are as a trader and help you get to your destination: consistent profitability.
Traveling without a GPS wouldn’t be smart idea. You wouldn’t know how to get to your destination and it’s highly likely that you’ll drive around lost like a chicken with its head chopped off.
You’re probably thinking that one could use an ancient object called “maps” instead, but we have no clue what that is. Please don’t make such absurd suggestions again.
Trading without a trading plan would be the same thing as driving without a GPS–a bad idea. You’re trying to get to this Promised Land called “Consistent Profits,” but since you have no way of knowing whether you’re headed in the right direction, you’ll most likely end up blowing out your account.
With a trading plan, you’re able to know if you’re headed in the right direction.
You’ll have a framework to measure your trading performance. And just like a GPS, you’re able to monitor this continually.
This allows you trade with less emotion and stress.
Do NOT be a Cowboy Trader!
Without a trading plan, this would be nearly impossible. Instead, you’d be a “cowboy trader“, shooting from the hip, trading by the seat of your pants, relying on your gut, guesses or signals from strangers.
That ain’t trading – that’s gambling!
Whenever you trade, you’ll probably end up a nervous, emotional wreck, crying yourself to sleep as your rollercoaster account balance grinds at your psyche. (Okay pretty drastic, but we think you get the picture).
Just as you use a GPS to both figure out the route to be taken and to judge the progress that has been made, your trading plan defines how you’ll become consistently profitable and tells you if you’re on track. Most importantly, if you suck at trading (and you certainly will in the beginning), you will know it is down to one of only two reasons: either there’s a problem in your trading plan or you are not sticking to your trading plan.
If you’re trading without a plan, it’s impossible to know what you’re doing right from wrong.
You have no way to evaluate your results, so you’ll never know how to stop sucking.
We can’t emphasize this enough…
“If you fail to plan, then you’ve already planned to fail.”
Obviously, a trading plan doesn’t guarantee success, but a good plan that is followed will help you stay in the forex game longer than traders who don’t having a trading plan.
SURVIVAL is better than failure and it should be your first goal as a newbie trader.
Remember, 90% of new traders don’t make it. You want to be part of that special “10%” that does make it.
You’re probably thinking, “Ba humbug! Trading plan, schmading plan. I can be part of that 10% without a stinkin’ trading plan!”
It may be tempting to trade by the seat of your pants, but if you don’t develop clearly defined trading plans and be disciplined enough to follow them consistently, you’ll have much difficulty making consistent money as a trader.
Don’t take any chances. Have a trading plan.
Why Trading Discipline is the Key to Consistent Profitability
What’s wrong with deviating from your forex trading plan if you make a profit anyway?
Making an occasional winning trade, even when you throw your trading plan out the window, may provide short-term pleasure, but entering trades haphazardly can adversely influence your ability to maintain discipline in the long term.Trading is a marathon, not a sprint!
When you stop following your trading plan, you become rewarded for lacking discipline and you may start believing that abandoning a trading plan is no big deal.
An unjustified reward may increase your tendency to abandon trading plans in the future. You may be prone to think “I was rewarded once, maybe I will be rewarded again. I’ll take a chance.”
But the positive outcomes of undisciplined trading are usually short-lived, and a lack of discipline ultimately produces the long-term trading losses.
It’s important to distinguish justified wins from unjustified wins.
A justified win is when you create a very detailed trading plan and FOLLOW the plan. A win that results from following a trading plan is justified and reinforces discipline.
An unjustified win occurs when you make a plan but don’t follow it or if you have no plan at all. You might be rewarded, but the outcome occurred by chance.
You might as well flip a coin or hang a printed copy of your charts on the wall and throw darts at it to help you make trading decisions. The win is unjustified and can reinforce undisciplined trading.
Maintaining discipline is vital for consistent and profitable trading.
Trading is a matter of getting the law of averages to work in your favor.
You trade proven forex trading strategies, over and over, so that across a series of trades, the strategies work enough to produce an overall profit.
It’s like making shot after shot on the basketball court so as to accumulate a winning number of points. The more shots you take, the more likely you will amass points. Just look at Steph Curry.
The winning player is the person who first develops the skill to make the shot consistently so that at every possible opportunity, the ball is likely to go through the basket.
They’ve developed the skill to learn how to shoot the ball the same way every single time. Consistency is crucial! It’s the same for trading. One must trade consistently, following a specific trading plan on each and every single trade.
If you trade one approach this time, and a different approach at another time, your performance will more than likely be haphazard.
We can’t stress this enough…
You have to allow the law of averages to work in your favor, so that across a series of trades, you will make an overall profit.
If you follow the plan sometimes and abandon it at other times, you throw off the probabilities, and you will most likely end up losing overall.
With trading discipline comes profitability. Don’t let unjustified wins interfere with your ability to maintain discipline.
Follow your own trading plan, and cement in the mindset that if you follow your plan, you will end up more profitable in the long run.
Now that we’re done explaining how important a trading plan is (can we stress this enough?), it’s time for you to learn what should go inside a good trading plan.
How To Find A Trading Style That Suits Your Personality
The first step in building a trading plan is to realistically take a holistic view of yourself.
The foundation of your trading plan starts with your self-reflection because you will be the only one using it. This self-reflection will reveal your trader profile, which is basically who you are as a trader.
Who you are as a trader will define what kind of method suits you.Trading strategies, systems, and methods which aren’t compatible with your profile and personality will drastically lower your chances of success.
While most traders want to immediately jump into creating or finding trading systems and strategies, they won’t know which ones match their personality and unique situation if they don’t spend some time on self-reflection first. Before you think about clicking the Buy or Sell button on your trading platform, there are some questions you should ask yourself so that you can better form your trading plan.
While you’re at it, you should write down these answers.
Writing down your answers will help remind you of what you’re going to do and help make sure you stick to the plan.
What is Your Motivation to Be a Forex Trader?
Why do you want to become a forex trader?
Is it to become filthy rich? Is it for the thrill?
Is it because you want to do something challenging and exciting? Is it because the girl you like trades currencies and you want to impress her?
It is important to know what your true motivation is, or whether you should even be trading at all.
Forex traders who aren’t serious or committed to the craft will be quickly eliminated by the market. For example, seeking thrills and seeking consistent profits don’t go together.
You might enjoy the thrill of putting on a humungous “I’m betting the farm” position, but believe us, you won’t be smiling once your trade blows up in your face.
If thrills are what you seek, go to a casino, jump out of a plane or try driving an F1 racing car.
Better yet, if you want a real thrill, drive an F1 racing car out of a plane and land in a casino.
Now that’s a real thrill! And you might even lose less money than if you were trading.
What have you determined to be your goal(s) for trading?
This can be expressed monetarily using a profit goal (either in currency or percent return) per unit of time. For example, you might choose a goal like making $4,223,834,145.53 per month, or achieving a 529% return every week.
This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with money.
Like “My goal for trading is to make enough money to be able to buy them new Space Jam Jordan 11s so I can impress my lady crush and she can fall in love with me and we can live happily ever after.”
Or “My goal is to have enough money to have plastic surgery so that I can look like Halle Berry and have everyone eating out of my hands.”
Everything has to do with money.
Whatever you decide, just make sure it’s specific and measurable.
Set trading goals that will help you develop as a trader.
It can’t be vague like “I want to be rich”.
Changing it to “I want to be super rich.” does not count.Be specific!
“I want to make 1% every week.”
“I want to be winning 50% of the time by the end of this year.”
“I want to double my account in six months.”
“I don’t want to make any trading mistakes for the day.”
By making your goals specific and measurable, not only will you know what you really want, but you’ll be able to monitor your progress and see whether you are improving or not.
If they are not specific, you’re just wasting your time.
What Is Your Risk Capital? How Much Money Can You Afford To Lose?
You need to determine if you can even afford to trade.
Forex trading should only be done with risk capital.
Risk capital is money that you can lose.
This is the kind of money that if you lost, you wouldn’t lose your home, car, spouse, limbs, electricity, etc.
Don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose!
If you’re playing with money that you need to pay the bills, it will have a huge negative impact on your ability to make objective trading decisions.
Imagine how stressed you’ll be while your trade is open knowing you might not be able to put on the food on the table if you get stopped out.
Every time a pip goes against you, you’ll be thinking, “There goes tomorrow’s lunch!”
You don’t want to end up starving, homeless, and broke now do you?
Unless you do.
In that case, go ahead and risk all your hard-earned money in forex.
Don’t be stupid!
If you can’t afford to make dough in the kitchen, then you can’t afford to make dough in the forex market.
Use your brain.
Don’t start trading forex with real money until you’ve accumulated enough risk capital. Until then…
Stick to demo trading!
Later on, we’ll teach you all about risk management and how you should manage your risk capital.
How Much Time Can You Dedicate To Forex Trading?
You need to seriously consider how much trading will affect your current lifestyle.
How much time each day/week/month (whichever is most appropriate) can you dedicate to the various requirements of forex trading and managing a trading system?
Your time availability should determine your trading style.
The shorter the timeframe you are trading, the more time you need in front of the charts. If you’re a day trader, since you’re entering and exiting trades throughout the day, you need to be glued to the screen the whole time.
The longer the timeframe you trade, the less you have to watch the market. You can simply check your trade from time to time.
Don’t forget about distractions!
When you say you can trade currencies for 8 hours a day, does that mean 8 hours of your undivided attention staring at charts and analyzing economic data releases? OR does that mean 8 hours of staring at charts, analyzing economic data release while cooking your Honeybun some breakfast, juggling knives, playing with your kids, watching Justin Bieber on YouTube, following Rihanna on Twitter, stalking someone on Facebook, and saving the world from the forces of evil?
Because if you were a scalper, you’d probably missed a lot of entries and exits, and end up instead scalping your own head due to your many losses or missed winning opportunities.
You also need to dedicate time to developing AND tweaking your trading system.
Trading your system will require you stare at charts looking for possible entries. Once you’re in a trade, you then need to manage it.
After you exit, you need time to review your trade and look for ways to improve.
And then you need time to write everything you felt and did in your trading journal.
How much time you’ll need to accomplish all of this will depend on your trading system.
Naturally, your forex trading system needs to factor in how much time you can dedicate.
This is all assuming you only have ONE trading system.
You should repeat this process for every trading system you wish to trade.
Whatever “operating hours” you decide, just make sure you’re able to commit to it consistently.
Which Kind Of Returns Do You Expect To Make From Forex Trading?
I want to make some money!
Ahhh. Of course, anybody who’s interested in trading certainly has ambitions of raking in some dough.
It makes sense – trading involves risk, and we expect to be compensated for those risks.
There’s no doubt that every currency trader expects to make a profit.
The questions that you should ask yourself though are this:
What kind of returns do I expect to make? And how much risk am I willing to take to get these returns?
Your answer to these questions will play a huge role in determining what kind of trading style you will implement, what currency pairs and times you will trade, and most importantly, the risks involved in achieving your goals. Let’s look at an example to help explain this better.
Mario and Luigi
Let’s say there are two forex traders, Mario and Luigi.
Luigi is looking to score 10% a year while Mario is a little more ambitious….
He wants to DOUBLE his account and make 100% returns!
And marry a super hawt princess. As you can imagine, a trader like Mario, who is looking to double his account, is in a very different situation.
It is very likely that Mario will have to take a lot more trades and/or risk more than Luigi.
He will have to expose himself to more potential losses if he ever wants to achieve his goal of 100% returns.
Traders will also have to take into consideration drawdowns.
A drawdown is normally calculated as the distance from the highest value of your account to next lowest point. (We’ll explain this a little bit more in a following lesson. For now, pay attention in class!)
Each forex trader must decide how big of a drawdown he or she can accept in order to hit their profit target goals.
On the one hand, there are forex traders who are risk averse and would rather have small drawdowns. The tradeoff is that this will also limit potential reward.
On the other hand, there are forex traders who are comfortable with large drawdowns, just as long as their system also yields huge returns.
You will also have to take into consideration how much time you can dedicate to trading.
If you can’t dedicate a significant amount of time working on your system, reading up on the markets and learning new trading techniques, recording/reviewing your journal, then we can guarantee you that you will have a difficult time hitting your goals. If you can’t make this time commitment, you may have to readjust your expectations as to how much you can make your account grow.
In the end, just know that success depends on YOU.
Do you have the discipline to grind it out consistently to tweak your skills and gain the experience needed to navigate the markets?
If you don’t, then expect inconsistent returns, if any at all, over the long term.
What Is Your Daily Pre-Trading Routine?
Having a pre-market routine is important.
Don’t think you can just jump out of bed, plop in front of your computer, fire up your forex broker’s platform and start easily grabbing pips as if they were apples from a very short apple tree.
What activities will you do BEFORE you start trading?
We don’t mean showering and brushing your teeth. Although you should always take a shower and brush your teeth. You don’t wanna smell like Pipcrawler now do you?
Your forex trading routine should help you accomplish the following tasks:
- Reviewing any open positions and making any necessary adjustments
- Reviewing yesterday’s trades
- Getting yourself “up to speed” on the market
- Identifying any upcoming news that could cause volatility
- Being ready to trade when the next trading session opens
Now you will want to review the overall market news. This can be done online through sites such as Bloomberg or through television (CNBC, Bloomberg TV, BBC). Determine what the overall market sentiment is for the day, review yesterday’s trades and how the previous trading session finished, and maybe identify key market areas like support and resistance.
Now it’s time to start trading your system!
Your pre-market routine will be critical to your success as a trader.
It will help you plan your day so that you are not spending time during market hours scrambling trying to figure out what news or data will be coming out, and what to do if the market does something you didn’t expect.
You want to start your forex trading session feeling calm, relaxed, and prepared for whatever the market throws at you.
Keep up-to-date with both the fundamentals and technicals affecting the forex market.
A forex trader in the dark is a forex trader in the red.
What Forex Trading Software, Hardware, And Other Tools Will You Use?
What “toys” will you use for your forex trading profession?
Write down the hardware, software, data feeds, and internet access that will comprise your forex “trading desk.”
Don’t forget backups! Make sure you have a backup plan for everything just in case your main tools fail while you’re in a trade.
What if your computer crashes and doesn’t boot back up?
What if your internet connection goes down?
What if your electricity goes out?
What if your keyboard stops working?
Finally, don’t get suckered by all the razzle-dazzle currency trading vendors (*cough* scammers! *cough*) try to lure you with. Do you really need that $5,000 chart pattern recognition software that displays in 4D IMAX?
Didn’t think so. Save your money and use it for trading capital instead.
Which broker platform should I use?
Where will you execute your trades? It’s not like you can call the bank and say, “I want go long EUR/USD.” Okay fine, you could have done this in the past, but we’re living in the 21st century now – time to get up to speed and use those online platforms!
But it isn’t that simple.
Make sure you know the ins and outs of broker you choose from executing orders to depositing and withdraw money (hopefully profits, right?).
Stick With Your Trading Plan
A forex trading plan is only effective if it’s followed.
You have to stick to it.
It sounds simple to do. It is really just common sense but most traders still can’t do it.
Why, oh, why?
Trader incompatibility. A trading plan should be a personalized plan for you, a plan that fits your own goals, risk tolerances, and individual lifestyle.
You must develop each component on an individual basis, never losing sight of the fact that it must be custom tailored to YOU and YOUR needs.
Not your girlfriend’s. Not your boyfriend’s.
Not even Ronald, your weirdo best friend whose head is shaped like a hamburger who likes to wear pink polka dot pants and is an aspiring rapper.
Your trading plan must be made based on reality, not on hope. If you’re simply trying to copy somebody else’s trading plan or yours is based on false assumptions, then you will not be compatible with it and will have trouble following it.
Solution: Be honest with yourself. Then revise your trading plan.
Trading plans are intended to be long-term.
Many forex traders give up on their trading plan, or often more specifically, the trading system in the trading plan.
They unable to endure a string of losses. Rather than sticking it out through the inevitable rough times, they give up.
Solution: Be patient! Trading according to a plan requires sticking to it through thick and thin. That takes discipline. Rock solid discipline.
Forex traders lacking discipline do not stick to their trading plans. You need to be disciplined. Rock solid. Does it sound like we’re beating a dead horse? Well, good.
Solution: Stay disciplined!
Self-destructive behavior: Some forex traders have deeply ingrained psychological issues that will sabotage them.
This can be resolved with hard work on one’s self, but the trader must be self-aware of such issues first. You can’t figure out a solution if you don’t know the root problem.
Solution: Look in the mirror. Hopefully you don’t turn to stone.
If you’re personally having trouble sticking to your trading plan, most likely it’s one of the reasons above. If it is, refer to the solution below it.
Summary: Developing a Trading Plan
The difference between making money and losing money can be as simple as trading with a plan or trading without one.
A trading plan is an organized approach to executing a trading system that you’ve developed based on your market analysis and outlook while factoring in risk management and personal psychology.
No matter how good your trading plan is, it won’t work if you don’t follow it.
Forex traders who follow a disciplined approach are the ones who survive year after year after year.
They can even have more losing trades than winning ones and still be profitable because they follow a disciplined approach.
Here is a summary of what the key benefits are:
- Trading that is simpler with a plan than it is without one.
- Reduced stress which means better health.
- Ability to gauge your performance, identify problems, and make corrections.
- A trading plan helps to prevent many psychological issues from taking root.
- A trading plan that is adhered to strictly will reduce the number of bad trades.
- A trading plan will help prevent irrational behavior in the heat of the moment.
- A trading plan enables you to control the only thing you can control… yourself!
- A trading plan will instill a large measure of discipline into your trading. Gamblers lack both discipline and a trading plan.
- A plan will enable you to trade outside your comfort zone. How many times have you let a loss run and cut a profit short because it was the comfortable thing to do? A plan, executed with discipline, will help to prevent this from happening.
- A plan is your GPS which will enable you to get from wherever you are now to wherever you want to be: consistent profitability.
- Your trading plan is designed in such a way that if you do take a “wrong turn,” you will know about it very quickly and have the opportunity to correct the problem before losses spiral out of control.
One last thing before you head off to your next class…
Always remember that the trading plan is a work in progress.
The market environment is not static. It’s dynamic and constantly changing. As things change, you trading plan must change, too.
Assess your trading plan and processes periodically, especially when you have changes in your financial or life situation. Also, as your research leads to changes in your trading system or methods, be sure to reflect those adjustments in your forex trading plan.
As Pipcrawler always says, “Adapt and survive!”
Remember, the main purpose of the trading plan is to keep you on task, and to operate in an effective and efficient manner to make good trading decisions.
It is, however, only as good as you make it, and it is completely useless if it is not applied in practice.